When you look at your legs, do you see blood vessels that are blue, purple, or red and twisted around like a cord or have a webbed effect? If so, you’re not alone. About 50-55% of women and 40-45% of men in the U.S. suffer from some type of vein health issue, like varicose veins or spider veins.1 Nobody is immune from varicose or spider veins, although they occur more in women than men, and they occur more in people over 50 who are fair-skinned.1
Our vascular system is a 60,000 mile complex highway system (that could circle the Earth more than twice!) 2 which includes arteries, veins, and other blood vessels, so it’s not a surprise that in all that mileage space we may encounter issues, especially in our veins found in our legs. Because of gravity, our poor leg veins have an uphill battle in pumping blood up to our heart, so on occasion, they simply struggle too much resulting in varicose and spider veins.
In this article, you’ll learn the difference between varicose veins and spider veins and what effect they have on the body, such as restless leg syndrome. Also, you’ll discover natural remedies, such as Horse Chestnut, to help prevent vein issues from occurring. Let’s begin the charge to healthy veins!
What are Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?
Varicose veins and spider veins are related to venous insufficiencies in which the valves in the vein aren’t functioning like they should.
- Varicose veins are those purple or blue veins that we see under our skin that can look twisted, swollen, lumpy or bulging, and they affect 40 million people in the U.S.8 In more extreme cases, they can be very swollen and raised above the surface of the skin, and are often found on the thighs, backs of calves, or inside of the leg.
- Spider veins are like varicose veins but smaller, and they are usually close to the surface of the skin and appear red. Often they look like spider webs with multiple short and jagged lines that can cover either a small or large area of skin. Spider veins are most common in the legs, however, they are also found on the face.
What Causes Spider and Varicose Veins?
Veins are an intricate part of our vascular system, and their job is to move blood from our body to our heart. When the blood has difficulties moving upward from the leg, your veins stretch or become weak, and the valves inside the vein become damaged. When the valves are damaged or stop working, blood starts flowing downward, and this results in varicose or spider veins.
Specific causes of spider and varicose veins are:
- Heredity – If your parents or other family members have vein issues, it’s likely you will also.
- Hormonal influences – Ladies, if you’re having any kind of hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, menopause, taking birth control pills, or hormonal replacement therapy, then you may experience vein issues because hormones can weaken the vein walls, leading to reflux inside the veins and resulting in enlarged veins that can be seen under the skin.3
- Pregnancy – Along with hormone changes, the extra weight being put on the legs and veins can decrease the pressure within veins or weaken them, resulting in blood not moving upward effectively.
- Being overweight – Just like pregnancy, the extra weight causes pressure on the legs and veins.
- Sitting or standing still for long periods – By sitting or standing still, this affects your circulation. If blood isn’t circulating through your veins in an effective way, vein issues are likely to arise.
- Sedentary lifestyle – If your muscles aren’t getting regular physical activity, this can cause a challenge in pumping blood throughout your body, thus weakening veins.
- Age – As with most health issues, age plays a factor because the valves in our veins may weaken.
- Sun exposure – The sun can cause spider veins on the face, usually on the cheeks near the nose, of fair-skinned people.
What are the Symptoms of Varicose and Spider Veins?
Symptoms of varicose and spider veins vary from person to person. For a lot of people, the only symptom is the visual presence of the vein under their skin, which may become a mild cosmetic concern. However, there are some noticeable symptoms that can occur other than just what can be seen.
- Restless legs Fatigue
- Ulcers (less common)
- Darkening of the skin (less common)
Spider veins symptoms
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that causes a strong, irresistible and uncontrollable urge to move the legs, and it is a common cause of painful legs, and it affects 7-10% of the American population.5. Sorry, ladies, but you’re more likely to develop this condition than men, which is thought to be because of female hormonal influences. Nobody is immune to restless legs, as it can develop at any age, but it usually becomes noticeable around middle-age and can likely worsen year after year.4
Flare-ups of RLS commonly occur at night just as you’re trying to get some sleep, and symptoms can range from mildly irritating to extremely painful and include:
- Leg cramps
- Leg pain
The strong urge to move your legs doesn’t always occur with unpleasant symptoms, but if symptoms are felt, they’re usually minimized with movement, like walking. Unfortunately, once the movement stops, the symptoms are likely to resurface. Symptoms are more noticeable when the body is at rest. However, you don’t have to be sleeping to feel the symptoms. Just sitting and relaxing can make the symptoms noticeable, and for most people this occurs in the early evening or at night. Because symptoms can increase in intensity at night, difficulty falling asleep commonly occurs.
Varicose Veins and Restless Leg Syndrome: A Connection
As you may have already noted, the symptoms of RLS are similar to those of varicose veins. There’s a common connection between venous insufficiencies (a condition where the flow of blood through the veins is blocked) and RLS. In a study of nearly 1400 patients with varicose veins, over 20% complained of symptoms of RLS.6 The good news is that treating the venous insufficiencies can reduce RLS symptoms. A study in the journal of Phlebology found that 98% of patients with RLS and venous insufficiencies had relief from their RLS symptoms by treating their venous insufficiency, and 80% had long-term relief.7 A great option to help relieve restless legs through improved veins is the vein health ingredient known as Horse Chestnut.
Natural Remedies to Improve and Prevent Varicose Veins
The severity of varicose veins is different for everyone, and therefore, treatments can range from mild to moderate to extensive procedures. 19
- Mild treatments include medications and lifestyle treatments.
- Moderate treatments include minimally invasive procedures, such as sclerotherapy (a chemical is injected into the vein to collapse its wall so it can longer transport blood).
- Extensive treatments include invasive surgery to remove or strip the vein.
So, what can you do to improve vein health and help alleviate your symptoms of varicose veins? Thankfully, there are natural remedies to consider that are easy, cost effective, and provide extra benefits to your overall health.
- Fruits and vegetables: Think “get colorful.” All of those delicious, colorful fruits and vegetables are loaded with bioflavonoids, which provide antioxidants, reduce inflammation, stimulate blood flow throughout the body, and strengthen connective tissue.10 You can’t go wrong with any fruit or green leafy vegetable, but here’s a list of some particular ones high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties:
- Fruits include: blueberries, cranberries, tangerines, plums, cherries, and grapes
- Vegetables include: spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, and collards
Having a vegetable or fruit salad, or a smoothie, is a great way to get a lot of fruit and vegetables all in one serving. The more colorful, the better!
- Fiber-rich foods: Numerous studies suggest that there is a correlation between low intakes of fiber and the increase of varicose veins.11 Fibrous foods include wheat grains, brown rice, oatmeal and lentils, all of which aid digestion and reduce vein stress. Adding fiber to your diet will relieve pressure on the blood vessels in your legs, and your bowel movements will be less straining as well. Take care to avoid having too much fiber, given that this can prevent your body from absorbing other important nutrients. According to the USDA, women should consume 21-25 grams of fiber per day, and men should consume 31-38 grams per day.11
- Magnesium-rich foods: When valves in the vein stop working, blood begins to pool (which is a cause of varicose veins and restless leg syndrome) and could be a sign that your body isn’t getting enough magnesium. Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, and soybeans), seeds, and fish.
Are there foods you should avoid? Yes!
- Salty foods – Stay away from salty foods because they result in greater water retention, which puts excessive pressure on your veins.10
- Red meat, milk chocolate, starches, and dairy – All of these can cause constipation, which places pressure on veins throughout your body. Too much pressure on veins can cause negative side effects like varicose veins.10
- Alcohol – Drinking alcohol regularly causes veins to dilate, which is can result in varicose veins. So, try to limit your alcohol intake to just one a day. Your veins will thank you!
Yes, among the dozens and dozens of ways that exercise helps our body, preventing or improving varicose veins is also on the list of benefits. Exercise helps to improve circulation, and better circulation allows for strong veins and valves. If you’re leading a sedentary lifestyle, you’re preventing your veins from having an easy time pumping blood from your legs up to your heart. So jump off that couch and help your veins do their job!
- Low-impact exercise – For those who are already suffering from painful varicose veins, do some low-impact exercises, such as walking or low-resistance bicycling. If you’re feeling good, though, higher intensive activities can do wonders for your legs and veins. To help build strength in your legs, Carolina Vascular (a 100% Board Certified Vascular Surgery clinic in Raleigh) recommends doing leg lifts, calf raises, side lunges, and bicycle legs.9 If you’re unsure what you should do or if you’re feeling any pain or discomfort, talk with your doctor and develop a specific exercise plan just for you.
- Stretch your legs – Stretching has many benefits, such as increasing flexibility and improving circulation, but it also can be very beneficial to help soothe discomfort associated with varicose veins or restless leg syndrome. So, when you begin to feel tingling or cramping in your legs from sitting or lying down, get up and stretch your legs to their full length and do a few lunges. Four effective types of stretching are: calf stretches, front thigh stretches, hip stretches, and hip flexor stretches.12For a visual of how these stretches are done, do a quick internet search and you’ll find many videos and tutorials at your fingertips.
Compression stockings are designed to help your leg muscles push blood upward by providing graduated compression with the strongest support starting at your ankles and gradually decreasing upward. Finding some shouldn’t be a problem because you can purchase these at most pharmacies and medical supply stores. To use, put them on before getting out of bed in the morning and wear them all day. If you can, elevate your legs a few times a day for 10-15 minutes to help those compression stockings do their job even more effectively.
Niacin, Vitamin C and E Supplements
According to the Vein Institute of Utah, Niacin (a form of Vitamin B3) helps improve circulation and reduces the level of cholesterol in the blood.13 Both of these benefits reduce stress on the veins in your legs, thereby lessening further risk of varicose veins. Foods such as oats, cereals and tuna are high in niacin, but coffee lovers can rejoice that this favorite beverage is loaded with niacin. Vitamins C and E have been found to be effective in reducing varicose veins.13
Vitamin C is reputed for its antioxidant properties that prevent cell damage, and this will prevent blood vessel frailty and promote collagen production. Both of these properties serve the function of preventing more varicose veins.
Vitamin E, for its part, will enhance blood circulation, enabling your legs to get proper blood flow. A reduction in blood flow is a prime factor that results in varicose veins, making Vitamin E an essential supplement addition as well.13
What is Horse Chestnut?
It’s an odd sounding name, but Horse Chestnut has been used for hundreds of years to treat a variety of conditions, and most recently one of those conditions are weak veins. Horse chestnut comes from a tree known as buckeye and is native to the Balkan Peninsula but is now cultured mostly in Europe and Russia.24 The main ingredient is aescin, which is a chemical compound that has anti-inflammatory effects and alleviates certain conditions of the veins.24 Because of the effectiveness of aescin, Horse Chestnut is used to treat issues with varicose veins and other vein issues, such as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which occurs when the venous walls or valves are damaged thus causing blood to collect in the leg veins.20
The Benefits of Horse Chestnut on Vein Health
Horse chestnut enhances the circulatory structure and function, and is a direct source of nourishment for veins and valves.14 If you have issues with your vein health, particularly in your legs, you may feel sensations of aching, burning, or itching around the vein, as well as having tender or sore legs, and Horse Chestnut is a great option to get your legs feeling good again.
- Helps treat varicose and spider veins – With poor vein health, varicose and spider veins may begin to form causing unsightly markings under your skin, as well as discomfort or pain. Those weakened veins and valves need some support, and Horse Chestnut assists with the structural support of veins and helps to increase blood flow, thus improving vein health.
- Helps treat chronic venous insufficiency – Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) affects up to 17% of men and 40% of women.16 If veins are damaged due to injury or if there are blood clots, CVI can develop. Blood begins to pool deep in the leg veins, thus causing swollen and painful legs. Horse chestnut has been found to increase the pressure in the veins so that blood can be pumped more efficiently upward, while also closing gaps in the vein that are contributing to the pooling of blood.17
- Circulation issues – Blood circulates in our body via the highway of veins running throughout our body. If there’s an issue within the veins, the blood circulation becomes more difficult resulting in pain and swelling. In recent studies, it was found that Horse Chestnut is effective at reducing pain and swelling, while improving circulation.17
- Hemorrhoids – Because hemorrhoids are a form of varicose veins that occur in the rectum, Horse Chestnut’s vein supporting ingredient, aescin, is beneficial in relieving pain and discomfort thanks to its ability to reduce swollen blood vessels along with its anti-inflammatory properties.25
Additional Helpful Vein Health Ingredients
Often used in addition to Horse Chestnut, several other ingredients can assist with vein health and support.
- Butcher’s Broom is an evergreen shrub that is found throughout Europe and North Africa. For 2,000 years, it’s been known for its beneficial effects on the circulatory system, and today, it’s used to help treat hemorrhoids and symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency (e.g. pain, heaviness, leg cramps, leg edema, varicose veins, peripheral vascular disease, itching, and swelling), as well as providing anti-inflammatory benefits. 26
- Chromium is a mineral that is needed by humans in small amounts. It’s most effective in the reduction of cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which has a ripple effect into the vascular system.29 High cholesterol and triglycerides can play havoc on veins; therefore, ensuring levels are in a normal range can improve overall vein health.
- Cayenne, also known as Capsicum annuum, is an annual herb native to the tropical Americas and cultivated throughout the tropics worldwide. Treating circulatory problems is a primary use of cayenne, as it stimulates circulation and enhances blood flow, which can improve vein health.30
- Ginkgo Biloba is derived from leaves of the oldest known living tree (the ginkgo tree), which dates back over 200 million years. In addition to being an antioxidant, ginkgo biloba has been shown to improve blood circulation by opening up blood vessels and making blood less sticky. With an increase in blood circulation, vein health is benefitted.27
- Citrus Bioflavonoids are phytonutrients with strong anti-inflammatory effects, which include strengthening capillaries. Furthermore, they enhance the effects of vitamin C (vitamin C is known to support blood vessels) and support blood circulation, which results in reduced swelling, venous backup, and edema.28
One way to keep your legs looking great and feeling good is to pay attention to the health of your veins. Prevention and improvement of varicose and spider veins is definitely doable, so it’s important to know that there are natural remedies to be explored, such as the Horse Chestnut ingredient. Let’s start giving those veins some support!
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